The problem of storage and disposing nuclear waste has created a real risk for radiation exposure for hundreds of thousands of Americans. In 2014, an explosion at an underground nuclear waste storage facility saw the release of a plutonium laced heavy cloud. The contamination has caused an incalculable delay in processing nuclear waste across the country. A a scifi solution to this real world problem may be found in Atomica, the new film starring Tom Sizemore, Sarah Habel, and Dominic Monaghan. Set in a near future where fission has made it possible to use nuclear waste as fuel and meet the world’s energy needs, Atomica is a surprisingly smart, ambitious and compelling psychological thriller.
In the world of Atomica, Earth has come back from the brink of war brought on by multiple energy crises thanks to a giant corporation and their triple-fission technology that both produces electricity and cleans nuclear waste. The film opens when one of these plants’ communications go offline on Christmas Day. A novice engineer played by Riverdale’s Sarah Habel gets the alert and heads into the radiation red zone to get the system back online. After a personality conflict with the hovercar pilot dropping her off, Abby refuses to schedule a pickup–planning to call for pickup once she gets comms back online.
Upon arrival, Habel’s Abby meets who she believes to be the facilities custodian Robinson–played by Lost alumnus Dominic Monaghan. Robinson brings the tech up to speed on the layout of the facility, but is almost immediately under suspicion due to the missing second plant operator stationed at the facility. A mysterious Dr. Zek is not on site, but his reputation in the movie’s mythology is that of a leader in nuclear research.
As the young STEM based heroine works to uncover what has damaged the comm system, Robinson reveals that there may be more to uncover in the facility as sabotage by Dr. Zek becomes the primary theory of explanation. By the time Tom Sizemore’s character shows up, the film has given the viewer enough plausible narratives that there is genuine relief and surprise when the true saboteur and their motives are revealed. Considering the accident in 2014, the film’s final themes should be the most haunting scares of the thriller.
Filmed in an abandoned nuclear missile facility in Washington, Atomica benefits from the ominous aura. The aging installation stands in stark contrast to its human actors and high tech set dressing. Originally titled Deep Burial, the film was scripted to take place at a nuclear waste disposal facility in the modern era. The producers decision to propel the story into the future opened numerous opportunities for the designers and science advisor to really create technology that is a preview of where we think we’ll be in 50 years. There was more smart futurism in this film’s 80 minute run time than almost all of Logan.
In the end, this character-based thriller is served well by it’s leads. By the film’s end, you no longer have questions about who they are, you genuinely understand their motivations and what brought them to this place. Doing quite a bit with very little, this movie is recommended viewing for its interesting characters, timely plot and clever twists. Continuing a tradition of films like Primer and the original Saw, Atomica is a compelling, satisfying thriller. You can check it out in limited release on March 17 and on VOD and Digital HD on March 21st.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Dagen Merrill
Writer(s): Kevin Burke, Federico Fernandez-Armesto, and Adam Gyngell
Stars: Tom Sizemore, Sarah Habel, and Dominic Monaghan
Release: March 17, 2017
Studio/ Production Co: Lifeboat Productions, SyFy Films